Investment is required now if the world is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and meet our planet’s energy needs
The world’s population is approximately seven billion and growing. Projections suggest our planet could be home to as many as 10 billion people by 2050. That growth increases demand for energy. The 2013 World Energy Outlook (IEA) forecasts world energy consumption will grow by one-third by 2035. Much of that demand will come from the rapidly expanding economies in Asia.
Even as we develop renewables and improve energy efficiency, the IEA is still predicting most energy demand will be met through fossil fuels. The world’s growing demand for energy presents an opportunity for many nations that have abundant energy resources, including Canada.
But there is more to this story than supply and demand: Indeed, concerns about climate change impacts continue to escalate.
As we continue to increase energy production from fossil fuels to support growing demand, factored with the commitments many nations have made to hit climate-change targets, it becomes very clear that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The solution rests with the development of transformative technology.
There is no silver bullet. Multiple technologies are required and energy efficient technologies are an important part of the puzzle. Based on IEA’s 2013 Market Report, energy efficiency markets drew an estimated investment of up to $300 billion (US) in 2011 alone.
The IEA found energy efficiency is the key factor in restraining growth in energy consumption that would have resulted from increased economic activity. In Canada, efficiency measures resulted in more than $32 billion in avoided energy expenditures between 1990 and 2010. According to the report, we saved the energy equal to Canada’s electricity production in 2010.
Renewable energy is also critical. The US Department of Energy estimates 23 per cent of all electricity generated worldwide is from renewable energy. While the bulk of that energy is hydro power, wind and solar generation are experiencing tremendous growth. In Canada hydro power is the largest source of renewable energy, providing about 60 per cent of our electricity generation. Solar and wind capacity will continue to expand in the decades ahead.
However, growing global demand for fossil fuels means carbon capture and storage is extremely important. Carbon capture technologies will play a vital role worldwide to limit global warming, making up one-fifth of the required emissions reductions by 2050.
In Alberta, carbon capture and storage is necessary to meet the province’s reduction targets. Fossil fuels are the main source of emissions in the province and Alberta has the right geological formations to sequester as much as 70 per cent of our reduction targets.
Today there are about 16 active large projects worldwide according to the Global CCS Institute. Four are in Canada – Weyburn-Midale, Quest, Alberta Carbon Trunk Line and Boundary Dam. In addition, innovators from around the world are pursuing the CCEMC Grand Challenge—Innovative Carbon Uses, by developing technologies that convert CO2 into valuable products that will consume at least 1 net MT of CO2.
It’s not enough to capture carbon however, or even to put it to good use. To address the world’s growing demand for energy, we must also reduce emissions from the production and use of fossil fuels.
In Alberta we’re seeing exciting new technologies that are being developed that reduce emissions in conventional and unconventional energy sources such as the oil sands.
For example, there’s one process that replaces the steam used for in situ oil extraction with electro-magnetic heating combined with solvents. It could eliminate water from the extraction process and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 80 per cent.
Another project is developing a partial upgrading process that would allow bitumen to be piped without diluent. It has the potential to reduce emissions and more effectively utilize pipeline infrastructure.
These are just some of the many ideas that are in development today, but time is of the essence. It takes many years to develop and commercialize new technology. Investment is required now if the world is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the decades ahead and meet our planet’s energy needs.
Eric Newell is chair of the board with the Climate Change and Emissions Management Corp. Previously, he was Syncrude Canada Ltd.’s CEO for 14 years, and chairman for nine years. To learn more about the CCEMC visit www.ccemc.ca.